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    Philippines asks Vietnam to guarantee rice supply

    First Posted 02:14:00 02/22/2008

    MANILA, Philippines -- President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has asked Vietnam to guarantee her country an unspecified volume of rice as tight world supply threatens its food security, Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap said Thursday.

    Yap said Arroyo had been in contact with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to secure an undisclosed volume of the Philippines' food staple.

    "I am very confident that in the coming weeks we will have a positive response," Yap told reporters at a briefing on the global rice situation. “I am fairly confident that we will be able to secure the rice stocks that will be needed to raise our buffer.”

    The Philippines is the world's biggest importer of rice and faces the risk of shortages this year as soaring prices encourage exporters to stockpile the grain.

    The Philippines' own stocks are down to eight days of consumption or around 264,000 metric tons, and Arroyo wants to ensure it has a 30-day buffer.

    If Vietnam agrees to the request, the prices will be decided by public bidding.

    In the meantime, the Philippine government is considering making similar requests from other rice-producing nations but is aware that it might not be able to buy enough to meet the appetite of a rapidly expanding population, Yap said.

    "Even if we want to import, there is a possibility that there will not be enough stock in the international market," he said.

    The government had planned on importing 1.6 million metric tons of rice this year, compared with last year's purchase of nearly 1.9 million metric tons, but Yap said they were considering hiking this year's volume.

    "Maybe by the first week of March, the second week of March we would have a better idea of our requirements," he said.

    Earlier this month, a government source said rice imports for 2008 could reach 2.4 million metric tons.

    The government has spent around $387 million to buy 876,701 metric tons of the grain, mainly from Vietnam, to meet this year's demand and plans a tender for another 550,000 metric tons on March 11.

    But big rice exporters are clamping down on shipments as they seek to sate local demand, partly fuelled by rising populations and economic growth and partly due to profit-hungry traders hoarding the grain.

    The Vietnamese government has frozen new export approvals for March, and rice exports from Thailand, the world's biggest exporter, are expected to drop sharply in the second quarter. India looks unlikely to remove its partial export ban, applied last October.

    Earlier this week, offers for Thai 100-percent parboiled white rice jumped to $500 per metric ton for the first time in a decade, and with world stocks at their lowest levels since the early to mid-1970s, Asian prices are not expected to fall or plateau as they usually do during next month's peak harvest season.

    At the Philippine government's last rice tender in January, the average price was $474.41 per metric ton, up 16 percent from an auction in December and up 37 percent from a September tender.

    The government has a long-term goal of self-sufficiency in rice and is trying to devote more farmland to high-yielding varieties but growth in output, estimated at best this year at 6.0-7.0 percent, is insufficient for one of the fastest-growing populations in the world.

    Currently estimated to have 90 million people, the Philippines is projected to have a population of 142 million by 2040, partly helped by the largely Catholic national government's emphasis on natural family planning over artificial methods. With editing by INQUIRER.net
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